Even before Democratic Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) filed his petitions to run for re-election 10 days ago, the first attack mailing against the 14-year Albany veteran landed in voters’ mailboxes.
The mailing, sent out by New Yorkers for Independent Action, accuses Ramos of “playing 3-card monte in Albany . . . and he’s playing us for fools.” The assault by the super PAC that advocates for charter schools and tax breaks states that Ramos “says he is fighting corruption but he’s not . . . he’s doing the Albany Hustle. Let’s replace Phil Ramos.”
A second mailing attacks Ramos for seeking a pay raise while “family income has stagnated or dropped.”
In response, Ramos recently rallied with nearly two dozen parents and local backers in a Brentwood middle school parking lot. Ramos assailed the charter school group as “hedge fund billionaires and Wall Street bankers who back tax credits for private and charter schools to drain money away” from poorer local districts.
One of four state lawmakers under attack, Ramos said he is being targeted because he and the community have fought off efforts to bring a local charter school into the district. He also criticized the group for failing to disclose its charter school agenda. “I’ve been out leading the charge against these nefarious efforts,” said Ramos. “I’m being attacked by wealthy people who just want to put money into the hands of the private sector.”
The attacks surfaced just as Giovanni Mata, 36, a medical industry salesman, filed 1,500 petition signatures to take on Ramos in the 6th District’s Sept. 13 Democratic primary. However, twice in the past, Mata failed to get the 500 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Mata declined to comment on the super PAC’s impact on the race, saying he knows nothing about the group and has had no contact with them.
Each mailing states it was “not expressly authorized or requested by any candidate,” his committee or its agents, although the first one urges voters to elect Mata. Mata declined to take a stand on charter schools, saying he will review issues as they arise.
New Yorkers for Independent Action reported earlier this month that it had spent $256,000 of the $2.78 million it has raised since January on polling and mailings against Ramos, as well as two Brooklyn lawmakers and one from the Bronx. The super PAC is not subject to spending or donor limits as long as there is no contact with Mata’s campaign.
Its treasurer is Thomas Carroll, president of Invest in Education Foundation, a research and policy nonprofit focused on increasing school choice. He did not return calls for comment. Filings show donors include Walmart heiress Alice Walton, who contributed $450,000, Bluffpoint Associates CEO Thomas McInerney, who gave $575,000, and One Equity Partners president Richard Cashin, who gave $300,000.
Ramos’ July finance report showed only $2,349 in cash on hand. But Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said the Assembly campaign committee and the local party will provide what is needed. New York United Teachers on Friday also issued early endorsements of Ramos and other lawmakers who are under attack. Executive vice president Andrew Pallotta said the union will be “absolutely relentless” in defending them and “confront head-on any attack.”
“Anytime outsiders want to spend a lot of money to influence elections, it’s a concern,” said Schaffer. “But voters see they are looking out for their own moneyed interests, not the students.”
Schaffer predicted that Ramos’ record will withstand the onslaught.
“You can’t undo all the things Phil has done for the district with a seven-week campaign of flashy mail,” he said.